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Hamline University dismisses instructor for art class depictions of Prophet Muhammad

An argument about academic freedom and Islamophobia has erupted over the use of historical Islamic art that shows the Prophet Muhammad in a lecture by a Hamline University professor.

Any representation of the Prophet, the religion’s founder, is extremely objectionable to many Muslims.

Students were informed that the photographs would be discussed in class but were not forced to interact with them, according to the instructor’s supporters.

The offending artwork was distributed on October 6 during an online lecture for an art history class, according to The Oracle, the student publication at Hamline. The lecturer explained the photos’ meaning for more than two minutes before displaying them, stating that “although many Islamic civilizations do severely frown on (depicting the Prophet),… there is no one, monothetic Islamic culture.”

Aram Wedatalla, the president of the Muslim Student Association, was a participant in the class.

According to Wedatalla, “I’m like, ‘This can’t be true,'” she told the campus newspaper. “I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I ever will belong in a community where they don’t appreciate me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them,” a Muslim and Black individual said.

Wedatalla pursued the issue with Hamline administrators despite the instructor’s apologies. Within a month, the school issued pupils an email denouncing the instructor’s choice as “undeniably irresponsible, insulting, and Islamophobic.”

According to the Oracle, the adjunct professor lecturer was informed that her contract would not be extended for the upcoming spring semester. In neither the student newspaper’s nor other publications’ accounts of the incident, the instructor was mentioned by name.

Hamline invited Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Minnesota branch, to facilitate a “community dialogue” regarding Islamophobia earlier this month.

Many of the Muslim students on campus were affected by this occurrence after hearing about it. It affected their performance academically and how they ended the semester. They were clearly injured. Meanwhile, they are grateful that the institution is acting morally, according to Hussein, who spoke to the Pioneer Press.

Hussein declared, “For us Muslims, that is blasphemy.” No matter who drew them, we don’t own any of them and we don’t share them. It is irrelevant. It is not acceptable to represent the Prophet Muhammad in any way. It is an insulting conduct.

The Oracle recently released a statement from professor and department head of religion at Hamline University, Mark Berkson, disputing Hamline’s claim that the instructor’s choice was anti-Islamic.

In an art history course, Berkson stated, “I feel that presenting an Islamic portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad, a picture that was done to respect Muhammad and highlight a significant historical event, is not an example of Islamophobia.” Labeling it in this way “takes our focus away from actual incidents of discrimination and hate,” in addition to being false.

Soon after publishing Berkson’s letter, The Oracle’s student staff took it down, saying, “Those in our community have communicated that a letter we published has caused them damage.”

In an interview on Thursday, Berkson stressed the significance of understanding how such pictures may cause issues for pupils who are afraid of idolatry. But, he added, it’s equally critical to push children intellectually and encourage them to choose challenging subjects.

He remarked, “Faiths are all tremendously different, therefore there will be disagreements within religions about all kinds of things, including this disagreement of representational art. The issue is that the university’s management is unable to support one side in a theological argument.

An interview request went unanswered from a Hamline spokeswoman.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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